We have a form with a bunch of options that impact how our service will work for a given account. Most of them are positively-voiced questions ("Allow this to happen?"). There is one option that prevents users in the account from being able to change their own settings. We want to discourage the use of this as it significantly reduces the value of the service to the users of that account.

I'm trying figure out if this should be a negatively-voiced question (left-hand option) or a positively-voiced question (right-hand option). I know negatives are harder for users to comprehend while reading quickly. Could this "speed bump" cause the user to leave the setting at the default?


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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    Well, visually it's a lot easier to ignore it in option two only because it's aligned with the others. Are all other options phrased as "allow X" and enabled by default?
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 4 '12 at 14:29
  • Thanks for your comment, Ben. The other yes/no options are positive-voice and we want a "yes" from. We do have some other settings that require a textbox response (email address, etc), as well. Apr 4 '12 at 14:37
  • If you don't want people to change this option (and apparently for a good reason), maybe you should not put this option at all. Dec 20 '13 at 10:20
  • In your first picture you could consider naming the options 'Disable' and 'Enable' instead of 'Yes' and 'No'. This should make the unwanted option appear more negative to the user. Aug 13 '14 at 2:41

I'm not sure you should rely on a copy change alone (or even if it worked, it may not be worth the added confusion - see @joe larson's answer). You might try instead calling out an explicit warning:


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

  • Thanks for the response. For better or worse, the question on prod now is actually written negatively. Apr 4 '12 at 15:26
  • If you went this route, I'd still recommend flipping it as I showed to be more easily understood. (With an explicit warning in place, I should think you've acheieved the desired discouragement.) Apr 4 '12 at 16:17
  • I'd put the warning on as well - but I'd also include some kind of 'Info' link on it so that admins can look up some more information on what it actually does. Warning messages should always try to 'solve the problem'.
    – PhillipW
    Apr 9 '12 at 9:00
  • @PhilipW totally agree (I almost did that in the orig mock)! Updating mockup... Apr 9 '12 at 14:26

I get what you are trying to do here. But if you flip only one of a long list of "Allow? Yes/No" to "Disable? Yes/No", instead of discouraging undesired behavior you'll most likely just get confused users doing something they did not intend.

This is similar to those jokes where you ask a long string of questions with a similar answer and then throw in a curve ball to get that same answer.

It's also reminds me to grocery store checkouts which typically ask "Do you want cash back? Yes/No" and then "Confirm charge of $1.23 Yes/No". Most of the time you are going to press "No" then "Yes". But this still trips me up from time to time.

This can even be a problem with a single choice. About a year ago a Java plugin update came out with some security improvements. The result was that users would load an applet which they'd been using happily for years, and a security warning would come up. The default choice was essentially "Yes", but that "Yes" meant "Yes, I want to not use this applet". This caused great confusion for users and extra work for support... Though possibly this had more to do with users reflexively barging through security warnings without understanding them than anything else [which is kind of what you are dealing with here].

So in general, I'd say the principle is first make a list of yes/no choices consistent in their positivity/negativity. Second, when possible make "Yes" mean "move forward/confirm/continue", except when it violates the first principle.

One totally different solution would be to move this question to a separate area and deal with it using a different UI control (toggle button, dropdown, etc..)

  • Thanks for the response, Joe. I see your point. "Quick clickers" is def something I'm worried about with this. Apr 4 '12 at 15:32
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    It's an interesting take with regards to consistency in behavior.
    – dnbrv
    Apr 4 '12 at 15:41

In our UI, we changed the responses to match the tone of the question: Allow/Disallow vs. Enable/Disable vs. Yes/No.

The UI itself could still be radio button/slider/(your favorite). Make sure that the default answers are "internally consistent" - i.e. most secure, most useful, etc. since when in doubt, users dont change them.

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